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Star Player

Musings and ramblings on MMO design philosophy and mechanics. Allstar - BOON Control - @AllstarMMO

Author: Allstar_MMO

What WildStar needs to get right in raiding

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday May 6 2013 at 2:44PM
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Was the old school really cool?

 

A lot of MMO players wax lyrical about large-scale PVE raids in MMOs of the past.

The pull of nostalgia is difficult to resist and when players had to commit such a huge amount of their time just preparing to raid their attachment is easy to understand.

With the announcement that Carbine will be making a return to 40man raiding in WildStar, many veteran MMO players are rejoicing at the return of “hardcore” raiding whilst some remain hesitant. What if all the nostalgia really is just ..nostalgia?

 

In this article I will be examining the areas where Carbine will need to excel and the pitfalls they need to avoid in order to make the return of the 40man raid in WildStar not only successful, but truly epic.

 

Cosy, I love what you've done with the ..spikes and flames. Very ethnic.

 

 

We are the 1 percent

The announcement that Carbine will be catering their 40man raids to the “1% of players who want the really tough stuff “ came as something of a shock to a lot of gamers. MMO developers in recent years have geared their design philosophy toward accessibility for all with multiple levels of difficulty, allowing all players to experience their game's content whilst keeping the very hardest content present for the upper nth percentile of players.

 

This method, of course, comes at a price. A large number of (particularly vocal) players have complained about this approach with the argument that it cheapens the overall experience for those with greater desire and, perhaps critically, more time to dedicate themselves to the game and clear the most challenging content.

Naturally this should be considered in a measured approach, just because other players are given an opportunity to experience content at a reduced difficulty shouldn't make players feel as if their achievements are invalid, it's counter-productive to an MMO's growth to suggest otherwise. More-so, allowing developers to invest time making content that they know will be delivered to the majority of their player-base should never be considered a bad thing.

Making a return to hardcore raiding is a bold move for Carbine, and something that has drawn a lot of positive press and feedback.

It remains to be seen though, in an age of instant gratification in online games, whether it will be the correct choice in the long-term or if Carbine will have to adjust their approach as WildStar develops post-release.

 

Dear Marvel, please don't sue.

 

 

Investment Returns

In older MMORPGs, raids took a huge amount of effort to clear, not necessarily because of the challenging nature of the encounters, the reason lies largely in the fact that loot distribution and itemisation was terrible. In vanilla WoW, for example, Gearing up 40 players with bosses the only dropped 2 items meant that progression was painfully slow, and that was only if you were able to clear the first few golems in Molten Core in the first place. Preparing to raid was an adventure in masochism in itself with reputation barriers, horrifying attunement quest chains and consumable farming.

Back then, the investment that players had to make to raiding was enormous, which led to it being exclusive to those with the time.

 

How can WildStar deal with this problem?

At this point facts are unclear, but we do know that raiding will come in 2 flavours; 20man and 40man and that the 40man raids will offer the best loot.

Initially this looks problematic, will the 20man raids be mechanically easier? In recent years WoW has homogenized loot between 10man and 25man raiding with little success, both raid sizes have their advantages (10s being logistically easier to manage, 25s having much more margin for error, more raid cooldowns available and less wasted loot) but nonetheless 25man raiding has been quickly eclipsed by 10man raiding due to the simple fact that a 10man raiding guild is much easier to manage for exactly the same rewards.

 

What many players would like to see is 20man and 40man raids be completely different instances with separate audiences in mind as opposed to the “same raid, less people” method.

This raises some questions, does the relative power of gear come into the equation? Will guilds be able to maintain a 40man raiding roster with the promise of better loot, or will the “epic” experience be enough of a hard sell?

Sadly, the answer to both questions seem to be foregone; players will choose the path of least resistance and will attempt to maximise their investment:reward ratio. Ultimately, better gear is the carrot to the stick of raiding.

Carbine need to develop an incentive to make 40 man raiding worth the logistical investment for guild leaders as well as their members, especially as it appears that guilds are going to be expected to run two 20man groups before clearing the 40man raid.

 

Getting pretty tired of you shooting our cameramen Greg.

 

 

Attunement Therapy

As a concept raid attunement isn't a bad idea, but the delivery needs to be executed well for it to be successful and, above all, fun.

Forcing players to run out of date content in order to raid historically isn't a good way for developers to gate their raid content (and Attunement quests are content barriers by any other name) as it simply removes the element of choice for players, effectively forcing them to do something that they, and their guild in the case of clearing old raids, don't want to.

That being said, attunement quests serve the purpose of a competence-check for prospective raiders beyond the experience that 5-man instances provide, they show that a player has taken the time to prepare properly and is dedicated to take the required steps to progress.

In light of the fact that a lot of story-driven content in WildStar is going to be delivered by solo instances it seems natural to treat Raid attunement in a similar manner.

This would allow players to prepare themselves in their own time, without having to form groups to run old content or worse still, force a raiding guild to clear an old raid for the sake of getting one player attuned to the current content. They could also be used as an introduction to some of the mechanics and themes that would be present in the raid encounters themselves, allowing players to not only prepare themselves in a check-list fashion, but to prepare themselves mentally for the raid environment.

 

Attunement is a divisive subject, but it could be argued that many MMO's haven't explored the possibility in a modern fashion. It doesn't have to be a grind, it doesn't have to force players into older group content and it certainly can be fun.

 

I claim this land! And that bit of sky. The bird too ..and the sun.

 

 

Expectation Value

Raiding is far, far more complex now than it ever has been in the MMO space. Players expect roles, gear and boss mechanics to be tailored to extremely specific standards and to allow players to min-max their way to maximum efficiency in a way that leaves little room for ambiguity in encounter design or raid composition.

Raiding over the years has become a game of efficiency over fun where information is easily available to every player about everything they could possibly want to know, players expect itemization to be perfect because, thanks to addons and websites that do the math for them, they know to the exact decimal point what they want out of their gear.

Sub-optimal is not an option any more, whilst this has made a lot of hybrid play and clever strategies for dealing with mechanics redundant it has certainly allowed players to play their class the way that they want to instead of being forced into specific roles that they don't simply because one of their class' specs isn't viable.

What players should hope for from Carbine is for them to allow for a little more flexibility in their encounter design. 40 people is a lot of players to design mechanics around and players should be given more freedom to play their own way instead of adhering to a strict script of encounter mechanics in order to “solve” the encounter.

 

 

Oh come on, I'm level 5 for pity's sake cut me some slack

 

 

Contents may vary

Carbine haven't stated much about how quickly they intend to release raid content, but we do know that they intend to release “large monthly updates“ including group and solo content.

It is, of course, unlikely that Carbine will release raids at anything like this pace, but it does raise the question of how often they will.

Pacing of content is a difficult balance, release content too quickly and the game will feel bloated; Guilds will have difficulty clearing the content before more raids are released.

Too slowly and the hardcore raiding guilds will run out of things to do before the next content patch hits.

It would be a fair estimate to say that Carbine will release raids every 5~6 months, whether these are full 40manraids, 20man raids or a combination of the two remains to be seen but for the content to successfully reach the spectrum and demographic of players that Carbine should be aiming to attract it should be both, along with some solo, 5man and scaling group content.

 

Don't worry tiny phallis-bot, I believe in you!

 

 

Conclusion

All in all, making a return to 40man raids is a bold move.

The attitudes and behaviours of MMO players have changed dramatically over the past 10 years, the wealth of information available to us is overwhelming and developers have been required to react in kind with mechanics and systems that have become increasingly refined over time and altered our approach to gaming.

Sometimes, though, I feel like we've sacrificed the fun along the way somewhere in our quest for maximum efficiency, Diluting and stripping away everything ablative about raiding and being left purely with those mechanics and systems.

 

To be absolutely honest, I'm a little concerned. I find it difficult to imagine many guilds being capable of maintaining a 40man raiding roster in the current gaming environment, and the problem is compounded by the idea of making said raids exclusive to a vanishingly small number of players.

I can't escape the feeling that Carbine are devoting a lot of development time creating a raiding experience catering to an audience that may no longer exist.

 

Fortunately, this is all merely speculation at this point in WildStar's development. Carbine clearly have a wealth of creative talent behind them and near limitless options in creating a new legacy in the MMO market, one that I look forward to with great anticipation.